*(my use of “anger” in this post refers primarily to sinful, out-of-control anger not righteous indignation or justifiable anger; which I’m convinced most of us humans no little to nothing of, save from the example of Jesus)
I don’t know when I became so angry. Or how.
I’m 34, live a very blessed life with stress from a normal American busy life and have relatively mild mishaps. I work in a low stress job both full-time and part-time. My kids behave pretty well. My marriage is relatively healthy. My relationships are not volatile. My home is nice. Things are going pretty well actually.
So….why the anger?
I tossed and turned a few nights ago thinking about my own struggle with anger. It’s very real and tangible. I get angry at big things (disrespectful kids) and very small things (dropping things, anything, on the floor more than once).
All sin is toxic to our relationship with God and others and our effectiveness on mission. Sin like lust, laziness and unbelief are dangerous to our joy in God and our desire to live on mission. But anger feels different. I’m sure it’s not different, but it feels that way.
Anger seems to be that vice that is compounding. The more anger I show the more angry I become. Does that make sense? I blow up about something. Then that makes me angry. Then I get angry over the fact that I’m angry about my anger. And it becomes almost unstoppable.
First it’s a slow growing anger. Then it explodes at it’s tipping point. Then comes the guilt of anger. Then the shame of anger. Then the disappointment of anger. Then the frustration of anger. Then the confusion of anger. Then the depression of anger. Then the hopelessness of anger. Then after the cycle has spent itself fully, I’m left with the collateral damage and wasteland of desolation called my heart. I am out of energy, out of answers and feel stuck in a dark room with no glimmer of light.
That’s how it feels at least. Have you experienced this?
And what’s so sad about my anger is it doesn’t just rear it’s head in one area of my life. Not only is it compounding in depth (deep) but it compounds in it’s breadth (wide).
Not only is it compounding in depth but also in breadth.
Anger grows deeper in my heart with each outburst and further across the areas of my life. Before long, I feel like I’m just an angry person. I find myself becoming angry about things that don’t even make sense. Small changes to my plans. Changes in my schedule. Simple requests of me. Questions from my kids, no matter how innocent. Things going “wrong” too much. Anger becomes like an unwieldy weed that chokes out the flowers of joy and happiness, taking over the garden of my heart. The more weeds of anger grow in depth and width the more the flowers are choked out completely and it becomes a weed garden.
The more weeds there are and the thicker they get the harder they are to deal with. It takes weeks of weed killer and waiting to control the spread. Or attacking the depth is either backbreaking or breaks the blades on our lawnmowers, dulling them with each passing cut. When the weeds are too thick, the mower can’t function as it needs to. The mower has to hack away level by level by level.
Using this garden and mowing analogy, it’s best to stay on top of the weeds in your garden. Everyday pulling one here and there. Getting the weeds at their root so they don’t pop back up over and over again. Spraying weed killer weekly. Mowing often.
Cultivating the Garden of our Heart: Kill & Fertilize
There’s really only two ways to deal with weeds in a garden: 1. Kill the bad and 2. Fertilize the good. Stay with me here as I’m sure this analogy will eventually break down. Humor me here.
Our hearts require the same don’t they? If you look at most of the ways Jesus corrects sin or teaches on living for Him it’s usually pretty simple: stop sinning and start living holy.
Say “no” to the bad and “yes” to the good. It’s simple. But it’s not easy. It’s a supernatural “no” and “yes”. Our natural flesh can’t do it. It’s a control thing. A desire issue. An issue of the heart. Just like other sins, we allow anger to control us. That’s what people mean when they say “I lost control” or “my anger was out of control”. What they mean is I gave up control to my anger. I gave the authority and desire over to my anger. And as a result, my anger ended up controlling me instead of me taking control over my anger.
And we can’t do it ourselves. We must yield to the loving control of the Holy Spirit in our lives. To what Paul calls “the fruit of the spirit” which is…
- self control
Sheesh, how many of those are the opposite of anger right?
- love – out of control anger doesn’t show love at all, but the opposite
- joy – anger in the moment reveals a joylessness, an absence of happy contentment
- peace – there is no peace present when anger is present, they can’t coexist
- patience – often times my anger displays itself in a frustration over waiting for something or someone, my lack of patience displays itself in anger
- kindness – who can be angry with kindness? not possible. anger is often mean and harsh
- goodness – again sinful anger often displays itself in bad ways, not in ways that are good or treat people with goodness or celebrating their goodness
- gentleness – anger is very often harsh, biting, mean and bitter which have no place with gentleness; “a soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh answer stirs up wrath” Proverbs 15:1
- self control – perhaps the most obvious is how anger is displayed in a vacuum of control, it’s when we lose (rather give up) control of our emotions and feelings that anger bursts onto the scene
So just as a healthy garden requires cultivation and weed control, so we must cultivate our hearts with the fruits of the Spirit and stay on top of sin control.
First we must kill our sin (weeds) at the root. “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you” – John Owen, Doctrine of Sin. Jesus called this “deny yourself” (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) when he said what it means to be one of His followers. The first was someone who daily kills all that is selfish, mean and sinful in their flesh. Paul said “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31) and “I am crucified with Christ, not I who live but Christ who lives within me” (Galatians 2:20).
So first putting to death the evil in our flesh. The selfish desire to love ourselves first over God and others.
Second we must cultivate the fruits of the Spirit. Grow and fertilize what is good in our spirit by the power of the Spirit. We must be led by the Spirit and yield to the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Killing flesh and reviving spirit go hand in hand. The work in tandem together. Paul captured this beautifully in Romans 6 especially here:
11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and our members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
3-Fold Solution: Father, Son, Spirit
So as I lay in bed a few nights ago tossing and turning, thinking about my anger: the how, the where, the why the what now I heard the Lord speaking to me. In my heart and spirit, very clearly. He basically said, “My son, know me. Know me more. I love you. You need me. So know me.”
So I said, “okay Lord. You are my Father. Jesus your Son is my savior and King. And your Spirit is leader of my spirit. Help me Lord to trust you and love you and depend on you.”
Immediately He reminded me of how He is my good Father who loves me and has already accepted me as His son. He reminded me of His beautiful son Jesus, who came, lived, died and resurrected for my sin to set me free from sin and make me alive to Him and to righteousness. Then He reminded me of the presence and power of His Holy Spirit inside of me to guide me, lead me to truth, empower me against sin and for mission, and equip me to do every good work He has called me to. All I need is the triune God with me and for me.
And that is exactly what I already have.
The Father’s accepting love identifies me as one who is not defined by my anger.
The Son’s redeeming love motivates me to kill my anger and revive inside what is good.
The Spirit’s empowering love mobilizes me to be angry about sin without being angry in sin for the sake of the mission.
Thoughts? Why do you get angry? When do you get angry? How?